National treasure | 

Radio legend Marty Whelan reveals his friendships with Van Morrison and Michael Bublé

'I’ve been listening to Van all my life. When he mentions a track from an album I’ll know it. I think that’s how talking to Van works'

Marty Whelan is a stalwart of RTÉ radio and TV

Eddie Rowley

Irish radio and TV legend Marty Whelan will never forget the moment he suddenly lost his job and ended up on the dole.

One of our best-loved presenters, Whelan had taken a gamble by quitting his top-rated show on RTE 2fm to join the new Century Radio station in September 1990.

The move backfired spectacularly when just over a year later Century went out of business overnight leaving the then dad-of-one Marty without an income.

Marty with Michael Bublé

“That was very scary,” Marty (65) tells the Sunday World today. “When Century closed down there was no warning. I will never forget getting up the following morning - we had our daughter Jessica, she was only a little person at the time, a tiny tot in the pram - and RTE News were outside the door to interview me about the events.

"Fair enough, that was their job. But it was very scary for a while as we didn’t know what was happening.”

Now regarded as one of our national treasures and the presenter of Lyric FM’s breakfast show, Marty In The Morning, Whelan found himself out in the cold with no way back into RTE radio at the time.

However, RTE television gave him a second bite at the cherry with on screen roles presenting everything from afternoon shows to the Rose of Tralee and Winning Streak. “Thankfully television came along,” Marty says today.

So how did he cope with the dark days finding himself on the scrap heap in the aftermath of the Century debacle? “Music helped an awful lot,” Marty says. “Just listening to music and having it on around the house.

"We still do have music on all the time. It’s very important in my life, always has been, which for a dodgy drummer says something.”

He laughs: “I was in a band in school. I loved it, but it wasn’t going to be a career. There was the small matter that none of us could sing. It was called Ulysses…not pretentious at all.”

Marty, who married his wife Maria in 1985 – the couple also have a son, Thomas – has had many knockbacks in his broadcasting career, but he says his passion for his work drives him on.

“It’s still joyful to me, it’s not work,” he says. “I’m jumping out of bed every morning saying, ‘I can’t believe it 4.30am!’, but I’m going in with a smile and just really enjoying what I’m doing. I consider myself very lucky.”

His engaging personality and knowledge of music has seen him strike up friendships with superstars such as Michael Bublé and Van Morrison.

Bublé serenaded Whelan and presented him with a birthday cake at his 2019 concert in Dublin’s 3Arena.

Marty Whelan with daughter Jessica, wife Maria and son Thomas

“That was an astonishing moment,” Marty says. “He was very gracious. I had no clue that was going to happen.

"I had interviewed him several times and when his little boy was sick we were chatting about that rather than about the songs. It was a one-to-one situation about the reality of life.

“Because he’s such a huge star he could ignore all of us, but he doesn’t. To have him mark my birthday in the 3Arena was quite incredible, but that’s the sort of person we’re dealing with. It’s on that level of decency.”

Van Morrison has a reputation for shunning the media, but Whelan has established a close rapport with Van The Man. “If they know that you ‘get’ what they do and you’re treating them with respect, you’re not a flute, you’re actually having a proper chat, I think then it works,” Marty says.

“Van was wonderful and we chatted and chatted, But I love him, I’ve been listening to him all my life. When he mentions a track from an album I’ll know it. I think that’s how talking to Van works.

“When he brought out his book of lyrics I was asked to be one of the readers in The Olympia Theatre for the launch. It was his invite and I got to read in front of the audience, and he was there. That was an amazing moment.

“I’ve been up to see him in Belfast and a few places. He would sit and chat with me, which is lovely and I really appreciate it. He was a very big deal when my folks weren’t so well, my Dad particularly years ago, as I listened to him an awful lot in those times.

“So you strike up a thing with people sometimes, and because music is so important in my life it comes easy to me. It’s easy to talk to people that you respect and whose music has mattered to you, music you’ve really listened to.”

Marty is the ambassador for Specsavers Healthy Hearing Month this April and he urges people to get their hearing checked as intervention is the key.

“I’ve done the test myself and, despite all the concerts I’ve attended and the work I do wearing headphones all my life, I got the all clear,” he adds.

“If I did need hearing aids I would get them. You need to be able to enjoy life, the conversation and the craic.”

  • Specsavers Healthy Hearing Month runs until the end of April

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